Co-Counselling Teachers' Manual
1978, revised edition 1998
See also my:
This manual is intended for experienced co-counsellors attending my co-counselling teacher training courses; for experienced co-counsellors who want to revise and get to grips again with the basics of co-counselling; and for anyone well versed in personal development methods other than co-counselling who wishes to get a sense of the range, subtlety and effectiveness of the co-counselling approach. Anyone involved in the development of co-counselling is welcome to use it in any way they see fit.
The purpose of this section is to itemize all the elements of a basic training course in co-counselling and to comment on them from the teaching point of view. These elements are:
1. The teacher has presence, charisma, authority of being.
2. The teacher combines two styles of leadership: the authoritative or directive and the facilitative.
3. Culture setting statements. There are certain points which I consider it important to make immediately after a round of introductions and before the exposition of theory. Making these points is for me an important way of setting the culture of the group, and for establishing my leadership style.
1. Present theory at the beginning, as a rationale for subsequent practice, as a secure scaffold for subsequent practice, as the basis of a contract of the group to work with you ("If the theory seems sufficiently plausible, stay and test it out in practice. If it doesn't seem plausible to try out, have your money back and go").
2. Present theory as a working hypothesis, a non-dogmatic conjecture for group to test experientially. Present it as in principle open to revision.
3. After presentation of theory encourage group members to express their confirmation, approval and support of it, their doubts, anxieties and uncertainties about it, their questions and requests for clarification. Give time for intellectual analysis and discussion of theory.
4. Always meet a just intellectual point at its own intellectual level even if there is obvious distress attached to the making of it.
5. But always interrupt intellectual analyses and discussions, when they become repetitive, compulsive and aggressive/defensive. Then, if appropriate, switch from discussion to a little light counselling of the underlying distress ("little and light" especially if the counselling is unsolicited, but a little unsolicited counselling is in order since the intellectual pattern pushed out in a group is often an unconscious call for help).
6. Have periodic review sessions during the workshop to go over the basics, to enlarge and expand the basics, to introduce new concepts:
7. Provide teaching material reading lists:
8. Cultivate an awareness in the group of the distinction between rational enquiry and competitive intellectual "games".
9. Co-counselling comes of age when clients have liberated their occluded intelligence to the point at which they can awarely and responsibly review the theoretical assumptions in terms of which it has been liberated.
10. Sound theory provides guidelines for aware responsible release of distress emotions; theory review sustains the discharge process - chronic distress patterns by their very nature will tend to occlude and obliterate the theory that challenges them most.
11. Introductory theory includes:
Further important topics to cover during the workshop:
For details of the following see: Co-Counselling Manual (Heron 1998)
1. Present the following together as an interacting group, as techniques primarily for the client to use on herself (for details of techniques see: Co-Counselling Manual (Heron 1998))
2. Some points about contradiction.
3. Some points about psychodrama. Clarify four things the counsellor can do in the client's psychodrama.
4. Ways of starting and ending a session: the importance of starting with what is on top; of coming back into present time, ending on a note of celebration,
5. Free attention spectrum.
6. Scanning: positive, negative or mixed, categories of experience.
7. Discovering hidden projections: checking for identification.
9. Insight: the importance for the client of giving space for verbalizing post-cathartic insight and re-evaluation of the past and its relation with the present.
10.Regression by reverie: the client closes her eyes and lies on her back, holds up forearm resting on elbow, lowers it slowly on to the floor as counsellor counts down from 10 to 0, suggesting deeper and deeper relaxation to the client. When deeply relaxed in her reverie the client enters the childhood spaces opened up and works with the emotions disclosed. This is best done if the client beforehand identifies a current problem or area of patterned behaviour in her life now, and then uses the regression and reverie techniques to uncover its origins in early experience. A powerful and effective method.
11. Celebration of self and other as a growing theme throughout the workshop or series of classes: validation of, rejoicing and delighting in qualities, behaviours, appearances, modes of being.
1. Show how patterns can distort the client's work; show the wrong way to do it, then the right way .
2. Show how patterns can distort the counsellor's work:
3. Work as a client before the group when you need to do so (when shut down, without enough attention to facilitate the group).
4. Work as a client before the group for demonstration purposes: show how a self-directing client uses the techniques. But don't do this too early on in a beginners' group.
1. At the start of a workshop suggest to people the possibility and power of working in front of the group (with the counselling support of you the teacher) on spontaneously emerging distress, or on blocked distress. Remind the group of this possibility during the early stages.
2. When distress spontaneously starts to release in a group member ask her if she would like to work on it. Ask her to choose to work, to take the responsibility for the decision. If she is ambivalent (wants to, doesn't want to work) keep inviting and encouraging her to take the opportunity until she gives an unequivocal yes or no. If she says finally and clearly 'no', respect her right to maintain her defences, to choose another time to work.
3. The teacher needs to free herself of any compulsions for group members to work on themselves, to discharge, or to be in the group. Discharge comes freely when the teacher is free of such compulsions and anxieties, creates a safe supportive climate, generates free attention in the group and waits for spontaneous discharge and for people to choose to work.
4. Create space in the programme for people to work with you in front of the group. The total attention of the group plus your skill can release major distress, can open up major areas of work for the client. Persons can work on emerging distress or on distress they feel is blocked.
5. Since the client is inexperienced you the teacher use an intensive counselling contract with the client. Explain to the group that this is not typical of experienced co-counselling, when the client is largely self-directing (except for non-permissive counselling; see below: Co-Counselling Sessions 5.)
6. If spontaneous distress comes up early, then demonstration counselling can precede Explanation of basic working techniques, above. This is helpful since the group have seen the techniques in use before the explanation. In introducing the techniques you can refer back to their practical use.
7. After demonstration counselling, you may want to ask the client's permission to talk technically about the session, or you can sometimes do this while the client is discharging in your arms (e.g. in case of continuous fear discharge).
8. Some pointers about demonstration counselling:
9. Disadvantages of demonstration counselling:
So an alternative teaching model is for the teacher to do no demonstration counselling and let skills in being a self-directed client (with occasional counsellor intervention) build up slowly.
10. Advantages of (skilled and effective) demonstration counselling:
11. Avoid intensive unsolicited counselling in depth. It offends the principle that the client has the right to choose intentionally whether to work or not. Clients need to build up skill in taking charge of their emotions, of the process of discharge, of becoming responsible for working or not working.
12. But unsolicited counselling of a very light, easy kind, of short duration, is often appropriate in group discussion or group feedback session, when a person lets a pattern show in the way she talks about the issue under discussion, and when the group has been exposed to the basics of the method. Such spontaneous counselling needs to be quick light, relaxed always breathing respect for the person and acknowledging her option to withdraw at any point. It helps the person get some insight (through laughter discharge) into the distress that is distorting her thinking in the area under discussion.
These are short co-counselling sessions of from three to fifteen minutes each way. They may be structured by the teacher (in terms of techniques and subject matter) or structured by the client.
1. They can be used as practice and training sessions for particular techniques or combinations of techniques, with the teacher specifying these as well as some type of subject matter: literal description, repetition, association, psychodrama/acting-into combine well for such a session. Contradiction may fill another mini-session, checking for identification another, and so on.
2. Such training mini-sessions need to be followed by sharing and feedback in the large group, to share gains and benefits, to clarify technical difficulties in either role, to learn from each other (but excluding negative feedback to or about clients, see below: Feedback sessions with the whole group).
3. The argument against structured training mini-sessions is that they go against the principle that the client is in charge, works creatively in her own way with what's on top. On this principle the teacher would explain and demonstrate the different techniques, but provide unstructured mini-sessions for clients to use whatever techniques seem appropriate to what's on top.
4. The argument for them is that they guarantee that each person has gone through the motions of all the basic techniques (even if discharge is minimal) so that there is a wide repertoire more available for creative use in later self-directed co-counselling sessions. Also experience shows that in a well designed programme discharge can flow freely within structured mini-sessions.
5. Unstructured mini-sessions can be used to clear mounting levels of restimulation in the group, after some provocative topic or event has caused general agitation and tension.
6. If structured mini-sessions are used then the teacher also needs to provide unstructured mini-sessions in which clients can practise working with what's on top.
7. Unstructured mini-sessions can also be used to deal with high levels of simultaneous or readily available discharge in the group: e.g. multiple triggering effect of someone working on some dramatic material in front of the group.
1. These are necessary as a matter of course after every structured (training) mini-session, after early unstructured mini-sessions, and after all the longer co-counselling sessions in class or between classes: to share gains and benefits, to clarify technical difficulties in the role of both client and counsellor, to maximize learning in the group.
2. To counteract self-deprecation patterns, and criticism-of-others patterns, each member can be invited in feedback sessions to do one or more of the following, especially the first:
3. Group members need to be encouraged to raise and discuss technical difficulties about the method in the roles of both counsellor and client. The teacher can deal with the difficulties raised by explanation, demonstration on herself as a client, or by counselling with the questioner so the latter can have direct experience of how it goes well.
4. Where an ordinary contract has been used, it is necessary in the early stages to encourage clients in the feedback session to give some honest (but supportive in manner) feedback to the counsellors about the quality of their interventions: too many, too few, too interfering/distracting, too tentative/hesitant?
5. It is never appropriate for counsellors to give negative feedback to their clients, since this practice offends the principle that the client is in charge, and can invalidate and hurt the client when she is especially vulnerable (after opening up the areas of her emotional hurt) and so can inhibit client growth in self-directing competence. The counsellor does not know best: it is ultimately the client's judgement and insight about herself that counts.
6. Unsolicited light counselling during feedback. See above: Demonstration/intensive counselling of group member in front of group, number 12.
7. Some issues to raise during feedback sessions:
8. These and similar issues need to be raised gently, supportively, and with a light, relaxed, humorous touch, so that group members can respond and work through their initial technical difficulties with the laughter of insight.
1. Theory session, exposition, discussion, question and answer with the whole group. There need to be several of these during the workshop, to repeat the basics again and to introduce further concepts. See above: Theory and free discussion of theory
2. Feedback sessions with whole group. See above: Feedback session with the whole group
3. Explanation and demonstration of techniques before whole group. See above:
4. Intensive counselling of a group member before the whole group. See above: Demonstration/intensive counselling of group member in front of group
5. Direction-holding rounds in the whole group. Each person takes an equal number of minutes. On early rounds the teacher can help the people who get stuck by giving them a good direction. On later rounds the teacher may want to let people learn by trial and want error, so she does not intervene when people get stuck. But the teacher does need to intervene when one person lets a pattern take over the direction and all the others model on this. In general I think it is best to intervene more often than not: give people good directions and let them get the feeling of when such directions work. Direction-holding involves the sustained use of contradiction in one or other of its forms; it is not to be confused with celebration. Later on, when the basic skill is in place, direction-holding rounds can also be done in several small groups, without any teacher interventions, using the format in 6 next.
6. Clients-in-turn rounds in small groups. Everyone takes a turn. Each person takes equal time and works in any way on whatever is on top. Each client can:
7. Structured discharge in small groups. People take it in turn (equal time) to do some simple exercises (e.g. tell your father/mother what you liked most about his/her way of loving you.) There are unlimited numbers of such exercises. They can be introduced periodically after members have got some feeling for the basics.
8. Unstructured discharge in small groups. Members sit in a circle and give each other free attention until some one starts to work. The worker chooses either to be self-directing or to ask one (and only one) other person to be their counsellor. Three or four people may work one after another, entirely spontaneously during an hour. Can be powerful and moving.
9. Structured not-for-discharge small groups. Each person has a turn and takes equal time to do one or other of the following:
What each person says is not discussed or responded to by other group members, who give supportive attention.
10. Unstructured not-for-discharge small groups.
11. Celebration sessions (verbal and non-verbal) in small groups. People celebrate their humanity and capacities, in words, movements, dance, song, music, art forms, etc.
12.Bodywork sessions in the whole group. The whole group does some physical movement together to release bodily energy, break up physical tension and rigidities, liberate breathing and so make emotional discharge more available. Jumping, yelling, hyperventilation, shaking and stretching the limbs, acting into fear and anger. There are innumerable options here with many different sorts and combinations of exercises.
13.Birth work in the whole group. One person at a time re-enacts her birth, with the rest of the group providing the necessary containment and support. As well as re-integrating the birth experience itself, this can also open up much early infancy material. It needs skilful handling to enable a person to stay deeply in the experience of dark pre-birth places, while keeping some attention outside them; and to help the person contact and re-experience the post-natal infant places, to work in them, then come back into present time in a celebratory style. Profound in its affect on all concerned. Only for group members who clearly feel ready and want to do it. On a five day fundamentals training, I sometimes take one or two volunteers a day through their birth.
14. Meditation sessions in the whole group. These are for generating free attention, for celebrating spiritual identity and altered states of consciousness.
15. Lean ritual in the whole group. A lean ritual is free of any explicit theology, and uses the primal meaning of basic words and gestures. Thus the group stand in a circle with arms reaching upward and say `Above', then kneel to touch the ground and say `Below', then cross their hands over the heart and say `Within', finally reach out to take the hands of those on either side and say `Between'. Innumerable versions of a lean ritual can be designed. Lean ritual generates a subtle sense of shared sacred space.
16. Opening circle in the whole group. The classic opening ritual. People take it in turns to get attention out on a recent good experience. Don't let a beginner stay with a pattern of being too sunk to share a good experience. Flip her out of it with some light counselling "Did you manage to get your left sock on this morning?"
17. Closing circle in the whole group. The classic closing ritual. As and when moved, people celebrate self, or appreciate another person in the group. Interrupt pseudo-validations ("I like your face when you don't let the corners of your mouth drop") by getting feedback from the recipient; and by asking the speaker what positive impressions she is enjoying, and then to express them without any qualification.
1. Sessions from 30 to 60 minutes each way. 45 minutes each way is a good length for a five-day workshop. With an ongoing class ,co-counselling sessions will occur mainly between classes.
2. In a five-day workshop I use mainly training structured mini-sessions in the first 3 days. Then I switch to self-directing co-counselling sessions of 45 minutes each way on the last 2 days.
3. Feedback in the group is important after all the early sessions. See above: Feedback session with the whole group
4. In an ongoing group I make it a condition of membership that each person has at least one out-of-class co-counselling session per week between classes. Pairing with others is largely determined by available free time, geography, etc.
5. Beginners need to build up skills in being self-directed clients ,`hence I recommend free attention only contracts or normal contracts in co-counselling sessions. With these two contracts the counsellor is permissive in two different degrees. With the third type of contract, the intensive contract, the counsellor is non-permissive, interrupting intensively and skilfully the client's patterns. But this is only appropriate for more highly skilled co-counsellors.
6. In a workshop, co-counselling sessions may be:
1. Many would-be teachers are concerned about their ability to generate discharge in the group. This is not a problem. Discharge occurs:
In any group of people committed in principle to their own conscious development, when the safety level is sufficient to start to thaw out their defences, their distress willy-nilly starts to press toward discharge. It is never a question of pushing from outside for discharge, but simply of creating the conditions within which the pressure comes from inside, from the unresolved tension of the distress itself. Human beings need and want to feel loved enough for them to start to get rid of their hidden pain.
2. There are four basic ways into discharge:
3. Body work, active or passive, may loosen affect before imagery: catharsis occurs for some while before the person uncovers the imagery and insight related to its genesis. Or the imagery and affect may come together; or the imagery may precede the affect. When body work has surfaced some material, the client may then choose to work on it with the basic techniques given under active imagination.
4. For the client, birth re-enactment is a special mixture of active imagination, active body work and passive body work.
5. The active imagination way into discharge may, of course, include a greater or lesser or zero degree of intervention and suggestion of a verbal kind from the counsellor. But where the counsellor does make suggestions, the client still has to choose to act on them.
6. The golden rule applies: first encourage clients to be largely self-directing with a little help from their beginner peer counsellors - in their training mini-sessions and longer co-counselling sessions. At the same time, in working with you in front of the group, you can demonstrate intensive counselling - to help them grasp the extent of occluded distress and for the various other reasons given. In advanced co-counselling training workshops you can run training mini-sessions for counsellors to practise intensive counselling.
Some people are too distressed to start off as co-counsellors. That is, they cannot sustain giving aware, supportive imaginative attention to another person - they have difficulty in being a counsellor, their attention wanders, or they interrupt the client's work in inappropriate and distracting ways. In such maladaptive behaviours they compulsively and repetitively draw attention to their own plight in a manner that does not allow the discipline of co-counselling training to proceed. Such persons need highly skilled one-way counselling until they have worked off enough distress to be able effectively to take charge of the co-counselling process.
In principle some degree of screening is necessary. Here are some approaches to screening.
1. Pre-course publicity. In the handouts which advertise and give details of the basic co-counselling training course, make it as clear as possible, in appropriate language, that it is not a course for the heavily distressed, those whose behaviour and state of mind is distorted by distress to a socially disabling degree.
2. Give an introductory lecture a week before the start of the practical training and make the same point as in 1. in the lecture. The basic criterion, for those enquirers who have not as yet experienced co-counselling, is: can I conduct my occupational and personal life with a degree of order and balance that would be considered "normal" by the prevailing conventions of the day?
3. Discourage recently trained and enthusiastic co-counsellors from sending all their heavily distressed relatives, friends and acquaintances to future courses. Help to generate in a co-counselling community the principle of enrolling those who are in good, rather than those who are in bad, psycho-social shape. There needs to be a very large number of the best functioning people in co-counselling before there will be sufficient human and other resources to handle the worst functioning people. To try to help prematurely the worst victims of the old system will forever subvert the establishment of a viable alternative system.
4. Require all those who enrol for a course to have a personal interview with you between the introductory lecture and the start of the first training session. Some things to check out and do in the interview:
To "screen out" means to explain to the person that the co-counselling training course, is not, in your judgement, the most appropriate setting for her personal development at this time. Then propose a constructive alternative, for example, becoming a one way client of some professional counsellor, growth tutor or therapist.
This kind of screening is always problematic. It seems wise to acknowledge that if you use the interview methods, then even if you apply them consistently to the very best of your ability, you are likely to make an occasional mistake. A single interview is a poor sample of a person's state of being. The reactions to your interviewing might have been very different if the person had come a week or a month later. When in serious doubt, screen in, not out, because you can then fall back on the next item, if need be.
After the practical training sessions have begun, gather in the greatest possible amount of feedback about the early practice mini-sessions. If you come across someone who has a chronic inability to sustain giving attention as counsellor, in mini-session after mini-session, then take that person to one side, and advise them to leave the course, offer a refund, and suggest alternative approaches. Explain simply why you are asking them to leave. This can be done in such a way that it is not just another damaging rejection on their lonely pathway of distress. This procedure applies to anyone who in any way persistently interrupts and distorts the training process without awareness of what she is doing.
1. Forty hours
For some years many of us have considered that 40 hours is the minimum training period for co-counselling: that is, 40 hours actual training time spent in a fundamentals workshop or class. This can be covered in several ways: a block five-day workshop, 5 or 6 single day workshops at weekly intervals; two long weekend workshops; 3 hour weekly evening classes for 14 weeks.
2. Five-day block
I have used this time-structure for some years now. It has both strengths and weaknesses. Positively, it allows, if well facilitated, for the build- up of a powerful dynamic within the group and within the individual: discharge is copious and much material surfaces for individuals to work on. The power and depth of the growth process, and the ability of persons to take charge of it, becomes evident for all to see. Negatively, it is an island experience, separated off from the everyday routines of the rigid society. The individual may deal with this extreme disparity by encapsulating the experience, sealing it off, so that there is minimal transfer back into everyday life. In particular, the five-day block does not give the participant any training in regular co-counselling-at-home with the back-up and support that a weekly class provides. A person tries co-counselling-at-home after a five-day workshop, finds that the early sessions are (inevitably) a pale shadow of the co-counselling sessions within the high-energy ambience of the workshop, and so gives up through discouragement. Hence it is important, if this design is used, to provide participants with full details of local ongoing groups and encourage them to start to participate in these - such groups can provide the support needed for the early stages of co-counselling-at-home.
3. Weekly class
I used a 3 hour weekly evening class for 20 weeks, once a year at the University of Surrey for several years. The advantages and disadvantages are the reverse of the five-day workshop. Its great strength is that in enables participants from the very start to build up skills in, and develop the habit of, co-counselling-at-home. I make it a condition of membership in a weekly class that participants commit themselves to one co-counselling-at-home session between classes every week. Feedback on these sessions is then an important part of the training process during the class. A related strength is the build up of skill in moving to and fro between the open, flexible, caring society of the class, and the closed, rigid, alienating society of everyday. The obvious disadvantage compared to a five day workshop is the need each week to start again the slow build-up toward discharge.
The following gives a possible set of events for a five-day workshop: they are not divided up into days. This is only one way of organizing the events. What is not listed are the many spontaneous pieces of individual work that occur in this kind of workshop and that provide it with much of its power and drama.
There seem to be five basic options for the teacher:
This is good if the teacher is a good teacher, bad if the teacher is a bad teacher. It is good for the coherent exercise of distress-free, charismatic authority that can develop a workshop or series of classes creatively and dynamically. It gives scope for a person really to take charge of the unfolding dynamic of a workshop and to think awarely and consistently about what is going on and what needs to happen next. It can make for high intensity and spontaneity of growth-promoting happenings. It also provides a single secure and stable point of reference for beginners during their early anxieties.
Its disadvantage is if the teacher is distressed, shut-down, and unable to think awarely about what is going on. It provides no teacher-oriented feedback from another on what is going on, no second awareness for cross-checking about omissions, things not noticed. It offers only one model or exemplar. It can elicit heavy projections, both positive and negative and both together. It can degenerate into charismatic inflation creating too much dependency and subtle intimidation.
The assistant teacher is in a subordinate role. The assistant can do emergency counselling with someone in the circle when the teacher is working with someone in the middle of the group; can take the second sub-group when the class divides into two for any purpose; can introduce and demonstrate some of the simpler techniques; can be the client in teacher demonstrations; can give helpful feedback to the teacher on her teaching and on what seems to be going on in the group and with individuals; can counsel the teacher on the latter's class-triggered distress; can be a second exemplar to the class of an experienced client and counsellor; can counsel teacher and class member together when there is a heavy one-way or two-way projection; can contribute ideas about omissions and what needs to happen next; and so on.
There is a great deal to be gained from all this, especially where there is good affinity and rapport between teacher and assistant and they have co-counselled beforehand on any lurking restimulation in the arrangement. It is also a good form of apprenticeship for would-be teachers.
There are two teachers of equal status co-operating in running the class or workshop. They can divide all the main pieces of teaching between them on some prearranged basis, but with enough leeway for each to be flexible, creative and improvisatory as the developing situation requires.
If there is a very large group, much of the teaching can be done in parallel in two subgroups, one teacher with each, following a similar schedule so that everyone is covering the same ground at roughly the same time. Some things will still be done in or from the large group, with the teachers taking turns at this.
At its best this can be an inspiring example of parity, mutual awareness, complementarity, shared and alternating creativity. At its worst it can degenerate into massive one-way or two-way restimulation and resentment, with consequent deficits for the group.
There are three or four teachers of equal status, who function the same as in co-teaching, only multiplied. This method brings out strongly the anti-hierarchical, peer principle in co-counselling.
Like co-teaching only more so, it runs the risk of confusing beginners if there is any obvious cognitive dissonance between what the different teachers say and do. Where there is strong coherence among their various words and deeds, then this approach has the great merit of clearly separating off the method from any cult of personality, of idiosyncratic charisma.
The teacher teaches just one person in a series of sessions. This makes teaching totally peer since anyone in a co-counselling community can do this. It needs to be encouraged and practised much more than is currently the case. But I would always recommend that someone who learns this way rounds it out by subsequently attending a fundamentals class or workshop, or an ongoing group, or an advanced workshop.
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